Cooper: Utility customers deserve lower rates
Posted April 29, 2013
RALEIGH, N.C. — Attorney General Roy Cooper on Monday asked state regulators to lower the rates paid by Duke Energy customers in light of a recent North Carolina Supreme Court decision.
The court struck down a 7.2 percent increase on electric rates that the state Utilities Commission awarded to Duke Energy last year and ordered the commission to evaluate the impact on consumers to determine an appropriate rate.
Duke's 1.8 million customers in North Carolina have been paying the higher rate – about $7 extra a month for the average residential electrical bill – since February 2012.
“The Supreme Court agreed that focusing only on profits without taking customers into consideration isn’t a fair way to set utility rates,” Cooper said in a statement. “Families and businesses that have paid unfairly high power bills over the past year deserve a break.”
He filed a motion with the Utilities Commission calling for lower electric rates for Duke customers going forward.
"It would be inequitable, especially in these economically challenging times, for Duke to continue to collect increased rates from consumers pursuant to a legally deficient order,” he said.
The Public Staff, the state agency that represents consumers in utility cases before the commission, negotiated the 7.2 percent increase with Duke, noting that the utility had wanted to raise rates by 17 percent.
The Consumer Protection Division in Cooper's office argued in court that even that much of an increase was exorbitant in light of the sputtering economy and the tight budgets many families face.
Charlotte-based Duke maintained that state law requires the commission to consider the changing economy only as it relates to shareholders, not consumers. The company said it has spent more than $4 billion on new, more efficient power plants and needed to recoup its investment.
Duke is seeking another 9.7 percent rate increase, while Raleigh-based Progress Energy, which Duke acquired last July, wants a 5.7 percent increase.
Cooper said he plans to oppose Progress Energy’s request, noting that it doesn’t adequately consider the impact on consumers.
“(The Supreme Court) ruling should serve as a guide for future decisions to lower utility company profits and consumer rates,” he said.